Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lightning Talks session at Star West 2005

Yesterday I gave a 5-minute Lightning Talk on Selenium at the Star West 2005 testing conference in Anaheim. There were 9 speakers in all, coordinated by Erik Petersen. It was my second Lightning Talk experience, after the one at PyCon 2005 earlier this year. It wasn't quite as interactive as at PyCon, mainly because it was based on slides rather than live demos (I did do a live demo of Selenium though), but it was still very interesting and intense. Erik made it even more fun by introducing every speaker with a little Vegas-style tune that evoked the Rat Pack's apparition on the stage.

My favorite presentation was Rob Sabourin's, who talked about the Iron Ring given to all Professional Engineers in Canada during a secret "Calling of the Engineers" ceremony. The ring is made of iron and is initially very coarse, but the engineers who receive it are supposed to wear it permanently on their working hand, so in time it becomes round and smooth. It is a symbol of pride to be part of an important profession, but it's also a symbol of humility and social responsibility. Rob linked the ring to the Quebec Bridge Disaster which happened at the beginning of the 20th century, when what was supposed to be the longest cantilever bridge in the world collapsed twice during construction because of a scaling problem (the weight of the bridge turned out to be more than what the engineers were used to from previous constructions of smaller bridges). What I took away from the talk was the need for more social responsibility from software developers and testers in particular.

Another fun presentation was Jon Bach's, who talked about an interesting form of testing: open-book exams. He has an article online on this subject. The main idea is that if you want your application to be tested by technical and non-technical people alike, just give them an open-book exam with 30-40 questions related to various areas of functionality, and let them collaborate in finding the answers by exploring the application. This offers a much more focused testing environment than just telling them to go explore the application on their own. Interesting indeed...I have to think about ways to apply this in my day-to-day work.

Other interesting topics from some of the other Lightning Talks:
  • a test team's success with using session-based testing (here's a good introductory article by the same Jon Bach)
  • keeping track of testing progress by means of simple Excel spreadsheets (as opposed to cumbersome project management software and Gantt charts that quickly become obsolete) and using burndown charts to show where the test team stands
  • using virtual machines to simplify the administration of the testing environment
  • how gaining even a millisecond is important when doing performance testing at VeriSign
  • how RUP could not be easily adapted to non-software manufacturing environments
On the whole, it was a very focused session, choke-full of ideas and lessons to take away. Kudos to Erik Petersen for putting it together. If you want my advice, the next time you attend a conference, don't miss the Lightning Talks if they are offered!

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